Dani Weatherholt’s first-ever soccer team was with her imaginary friends in the backyard of her childhood home just outside of Los Angeles. She’d organize scrimmages on the lawn beside the chipped chimney that she pitched softballs against for hours before.
“I would say, ‘Who’s she talking to?’” laughs her mother, Gail.
One of Weatherholt’s softball friends had invited her to the SoCal Blues’ Friday night clinics, but Gail had missed the sign-up. So, Weatherholt spent an entire season initiating her own backyard training sessions before joining the Blues at the age of 9, getting a banana and a Snickers bar from her dad before every game.
Her older, baseball-playing brothers were her role models at the time. There was no Angel City FC, no women’s professional soccer nearby. She had no idea that she would go from her empty backyard in Capistrano Beach, Calif., to a sold-out Banc of California Stadium two decades later, when Angel City joined the NWSL.
“It’s a dream come true,” Weatherholt, 28, says now, two months into her first season with the expansion club. “I don’t think many people get the opportunity to play where they grew up.”
‘Bigger than soccer’
Weatherholt’s rise up the youth soccer ranks was far from a straight-line path.
Nursing a torn meniscus when at 9 years old, Weatherholt was placed on the SoCals B team and ended up staying there until the age of 14. Other soccer parents would tell her to go to a different club, that she deserved to play at a higher level. Her dad, however, believed if she wanted a spot on an A team, she had to earn it.
Weatherholt was finally called up to the A team midway through one season in her early teenage years. But she didn’t go. There was no way she was leaving her B teammates and coach behind, so she remained with them until the end of the year.
“She cared more about the team than herself and that was unheard of. It still is unheard of,” says Weatherholt’s high school coach, Stacey Finnerty. “I think kids, especially with women’s soccer, girls’ soccer, the parents are like, ‘You’ve got to be on the best team, be with the best kids and leave everyone,’ and they leave their teammates. With Dani, she just doesn’t do that. She’s team first.”
Finnerty coached Weatherholt for four years at San Clemente High School, becoming one of Weatherholt’s first and most impactful female role models in soccer. As the only female coach in the league, Finnerty demonstrated the value of women leadership, years before Weatherholt joined Angel City, with a majority female ownership group and front office staff.
After Weatherholt made the A team, she peaked as a soccer player, becoming more aware of the field and better positioned to shut down dangerous opponents. Soon, she earned a call-up to the U17 and U18 national programs.
For all of her successes, Weatherholt remained an “old soul” who always put others above herself. The San Clemente Hall of Famer certainly had the normal teenage struggles, juggling school and life, but the way she carried herself made it hard for others to know that.
As Finnerty explains, she had a way of connecting with her teammates and making every one of them feel special. On and off the field, she brought out the best in both the …….